‘Grammer in learning is like Tyranny in government’

  • Alan D. Vardy


In order to fully understand the political resonance of Clare’s use of ‘vulgar’ dialect words it is necessary to establish the history of ‘grammatical correctness’ as it originated in the eighteenth century, and to explore the various ways in which political and class assumptions were embedded in its rhetorical formulations. This chapter sets out, first, to show how Clare found himself in the midst of a complex cultural controversy, and how current arguments about editing his poems indicate that he remains trapped in the original terms of that controversy. Second, it establishes the ways in which Clare was subject to grammatical ‘instruction’, and explores the social meaning of that ‘instruction’. And the final section explores the counter-tradition of ‘radical grammar’ that was founded by Home Tooke at the end of the eighteenth-century, and subsequently developed into an integral part of the radical movement for reform by William Cobbett during the same period that Clare was composing his first two volumes1.


Universal Grammar English Grammar Political Bias Grammatical Correctness Rhetorical Formulation 
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© Alan D. Vardy 2003

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  • Alan D. Vardy

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